Friday, June 02, 2006

Sparks of Enthusiasm

I'm hoping that the next six weeks or so will add a new dimension to my research life here, which has been distinctly lacking of late. As I mentioned a while ago, my life in Beijing is pretty stress and commitment free with any commitments I do have being self-imposed ones which I'm very happy to take on.

As the only non-Chinese speaker in the department, everyone is very friendly to me but I'm essentially left to do my own thing when it comes to research. This is great in some ways but something is clearly lacking. One of the aspects I enjoyed most about my PhD time in Southampton was the time spent chatting with the other students about our research, new papers which interested/bewildered us and problems that we'd come across. The grad student office probably wasn't the best environment most of the time to get your head down and read through a paper as, when people weren't gossiping about non-physics topics, they were at the whiteboard, chewing through some problem (often something trivial which had us stumped).

This interaction is one of the highlights, in my mind, of a healthy research career. I'm not someone who can sit alone, shut myself away in an office and come up with a ground-breaking paper (my second to last paper was written in such a manner but I would only count the results as interesting and not ground-breaking).

Anyway, here in Beijing the language barrier does present a ficticious but seemingly present wall to cultivating a healthy physics repartee with most in the department. The blame for this lies entirely with me but simply accepting this doesn't change the situation. Of late I've been collaring PhD students and getting them to chat with me about their work which has been thoroughly enjoyable and a good change.

I had a good chat with one of the students a couple of days ago about their paper which is along very similar lines to the Sakai-Sugimoto D4-D8-D8(bar) brane setup which has suddenly been the focus of renewed interest. In the paper of Gao et al, they use instead a D2 brane background and find various interesting results which are dual to a non-linear realisation of the two-dimensional Gross-Neveu model. A couple of hours chatting over this paper was extremely refreshing.

Not only do I miss the one-on-one contact to talk and learn about new physics from those with more and less experience around me but the number of seminars I get to attend on interesting topics which are in English is exceedingly limited. I do go to the seminars but generally the only medium of information exchange is via the slides which isn't a great way to become well-informed.

Anyway, hopefully all this is about to change, at least for a few weeks. Tomorrow a friend, and current student of my former supervisor, will be arriving in Beijing for a two week summer school on string theory which I will also be attending and will hopefully comment on as the lectures progress. I hope that this will be an excellent opportunity to talk physics again (strange to say it but this idea is really getting me enthused just thinking about it - I feel my brain has been muffled for rather too long!).

Following the summer school is the main event, Strings 2006, which I hope will be a good chance to meet a lot of the people working in my field for real and chat about the recent developments in my small subsection of the subject.

After what will probably be a pretty heavy schedule of lectures, if all works out, I will have a student from Japan over to visit the department. As there is no specific funding to get PhD students to Beijing for visits, this is proving a little difficult, but we've both agreed that if the worst comes to the worst and there is not funding available that we will fund it out of our own pockets. The chance of building a good collaboration with an enthusiastic and talented PhD student is not to be missed.

This all gives me a hectic schedule for the next six weeks or so but I can't wait to see what the outcome of it all is. Before all this starts for real I'll have a couple of days to drag my jet-lagged friend around Beijing and hopefully get some good snaps on the way.

In the mean time I sit in my office sifting through papers and books somewhat half-heartedly attempting to spark a new project. I have a list of ideas and will talk about them when I've either killed them or they've blossomed to a healthy extent.


All being well I'm now on Mixedstates, a collection of physics blogs with a page which regularly updates new feeds. Link also to the right.

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